A new publication from ULI and Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) calls on cities worldwide to recognize their common challenges in building climate resilience. It sets out a strategy for mobilizing individuals—whether in business, government, or civic organizations, or as residents—to act as global citizens and take steps toward making their cities more climate resilient.

The book, Building Climate Resilience in Cities Worldwide: 10 Principles to Forge a Cooperative Ecosystem, presses the need for a whole-of-society approach that addresses other threats and inequities alongside climate risks in order to win the cooperation of all stakeholders and achieve genuine, citywide resilience. The best solutions, meeting specific local needs, are shown to have been developed with the people most affected.

Combining the expertise and experiences of five cities around the world—Hong Kong, Miami, New York City, Rotterdam, and Singapore—the CLC and ULI set out practical guidance for city governments, businesses, and communities to act together on risks, such as rising temperatures, wildfires, droughts, more intense storms, heavier rainfalls, and rising sea levels, that threaten the functions and sometimes even the existence of cities.

The 10 principles for achieving collective action by multiple stakeholders are translated into recommended actions that are, in turn, illustrated with real-life examples of best practices from around the world. The principles are as follows:

  1. Elevate resilience as a goal for all sectors and stakeholders.
  2. Work across space, time, and organizations.
  3. Leverage opportunities to enhance livability.
  4. Provide transparency through data and knowledge sharing.
  5. Strive for equity, access, and inclusion.
  6. Spur united action through a common narrative.
  7. Nurture a culture of collaboration.
  8. Embody flexibility in approaches and solutions.
  9. Motivate the market, spur innovation.
  10. Normalize green finance to fund projects.

The report also features in-depth case studies of the resilience challenges and policies in the five cities on which the book focuses.

In addition to organizational action, individuals are urged to make their own properties more resilient and their investments greener, as well as press for resilience to be elevated to the same level as profitability or sustainability in their working lives. Where an area lacks a resilience working group, civic leaders are encouraged to bring people together—whether professionals or members of the public—and engage with other stakeholders.

“If there’s one overriding message, it’s that we all need to break out of our silos,” says Ed Walter, ULI global chief executive officer. “We need to plan longer term, collaborate beyond our usual boundaries, and look beyond our own sectors, interests, and responsibilities. We have to stop setting up discreet programs that address just one risk and start thinking instead about how we incentivize broader behavioral change.

“It’s not so common for a best practice book to emphasize individual responsibility—what each of us can do in our working lives or as private individuals. The younger generation are right in telling us not to be passive, but to work with our neighbors, governments, and businesses to drive change,” he says.

“We can see from recent decades that the best-prepared cities don’t just recover from climate shocks,” says Hugh Lim, executive director of the Centre for Liveable Cities. “They emerge stronger and thrive by adapting to unexpected disruptions and translating challenges into opportunities. The benefits from resilience investments are reaped by cities in the form of ‘resilience dividends,’ which will benefit all stakeholders and future generations whilst building stronger community bonds.

“Those benefits are not merely a happy side effect of a whole-of-society approach, but provide the motivation for bringing people together, despite their disparate interests.”

The book offers insights to cities worldwide from the five case-study cities that participated in the research through workshops with local stakeholders and experts that formed the basis for the 10 principles. Select practices and next steps from each city include:

  • Hong Kong. Industry leaders are helping drive adaptation through finance. Link REIT, a real estate investment trust, issued the first local “green bond” of HK$3.9 billion (US$500 million), alongside a new Green Finance Framework to select projects that incorporate climate resilience and sustainability. The government is supporting resilient development in part by working to create a new landslide barrier system for the city’s steep slopes, as well as requiring major public projects to comply with planning standards that reduce the urban heat island effect. Hong Kong has a great opportunity to build on its strengths as a leading financial market to innovate in the areas of insurance for climate-related risks and providing capital for sustainable development. The city can also continue to support the wider business community in further embracing sustainability and addressing climate vulnerabilities through research and technological advancements.
  • Miami. The city of Miami has demonstrated the potential of regional collaborations with neighboring governments, cross-jurisdictional initiatives, and local financing mechanisms. The city’s resilience plan, Resilient305, was developed in concert with the adjacent city of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County and aligns with the Regional Climate Action Plan put out by the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact, a four-county body that provides localized climate science and guidance on policy and advocacy to local municipalities. Further land use and planning decisions can be unified under a comprehensive development plan that broadly embeds resilience in the city’s development while directing growth toward higher-elevation areas and preserving housing affordability long term.
  • New York City. The city is working on ambitious protective waterfront infrastructure, especially in Lower Manhattan, a result of its success with innovative public/private design competitions such as Rebuild by Design. Broadly, its resilience work is driven by a combination of proactive planning and science-based policy guidance. A major next step for the city will be to scale up resilience retrofits across its existing and aging building stock, in part by using existing energy efficiency retrofit programs and financing mechanisms.
  • Rotterdam. The book celebrates Rotterdam’s historic culture of collaboration, originating in communal maintenance of the city’s sea defenses. Residents have been further motivated to take part in building resilience by the reimagining of public spaces as infrastructure for balancing recreation and managing stormwater. In addition, the city works with developers on cofinancing and incentives to encourage adoption of resilience strategies like green roofs, complementing requirements to capture stormwater on site to reduce flooding. Rotterdam can stimulate even greater private-sector participation by clarifying the business case for resilience, creating new or highlighting existing incentive programs, and incorporating flexibility in building regulations to allow for innovative development.
  • Singapore. Singapore is mobilizing to respond to climate change with large government funding commitments, dedicating S$100 billion (US$75 billion) over the next 100 years for resilience measures. Channelized waterways are being restored to natural conditions to reduce flooding, and elevation requirements for some critical infrastructure have been adjusted in response to updated projections for sea-level rise. Meanwhile, private developers are incorporating climate-sensitive designs and pushing the environmental performance of their buildings. This trend can be accelerated through greater data sharing and dialogues among sectors to change industry norms, enhance collaboration, and create a shared narrative among businesses and the public on the need for resilience.

Building Climate Resilience in Cities Worldwide will be discussed January 29 at a deep-dive panel session, “Public and Private: Joining Forces for Climate Resilience,” at the World Cities Summit 2021 Preview. The virtual session will bring together speakers from the cities featured in the book, including Elijah Hutchinson, vice president of waterfronts, New York City Economic Development Corporation; Henk Ovink, special envoy for international water affairs, the Netherlands; Ellie Tang, head of sustainability, New World Development Company Limited; Esther An, chief sustainability officer, City Developments Limited; and Lauren Sorkin, executive director, Resilient Cities Network.